Remember this Amare dunk on Dante Cunningham? I am sure Dante (and his future children) do. (Photo by Max Simbron)
When the Suns played the Pacers recently, the team had revenge on their mind. They were pissed about Earl Watson elbowing Steve Nash in the mouth and they were even more pissed about giving up a 24 point lead. It was, IMHO, the worst loss of the season. A real low point.
So when the Pacers came to Phoenix, the Suns were ready and willing to dish out some sweet, sweet revenge. It cost Channing Frye the first suspension of his career but the message was sent. You ain't going to punk this Suns team, sucker.
How do I know the Suns felt this way? I don't. I made it up. No one on the team, despite being asked, would admit any connection between the two games or between Earl Watson splitting Nash's lip and Channing Frye elbowing him and shoving him in the back of the head. But it is so much more fun to imagine it this way, isn't it?
That brings us to today's game vs. the Trail Blazers.
The Suns dropped a very winnable one to a Roy-less Blazers team going into the all-star break. At the time, I was pissed about this game. The Suns had just come off an impressive 5-game winning streak and looked like they might be turning the season around and then they go out and get their ass kicked.
Gentry's words, not mine, "We got our ass kicked, plain and simple. We didn't do a very good job, we weren't ready to play and we didn't play with a whole lot of energy and passion. When we don't do that, we're not very good. We become a very, very average team."
Now, I seriously doubt that the Suns players are thinking about that game going into the re-match tonight.
The reality is that life in the NBA is a day-to-day existence. Players rarely know who their next opponent is and sometimes don't know what day of the week it is. Memories are short and focus is immediate. It's just the way it is when your life is dictated by a game schedule that doesn't distinguish between weekends and weekdays.
That doesn't stop us fans from remembering and demanding our pound of flesh. The Suns not only need this game to stay up with the Jazz and Thunder in the race for the 4th seed, but to put distance from the pesky Blazers, just 1.5 games back.
But come on, let's not pretend that avenging that February 10th ass-kicking isn't in order. Especially since it is a nationally televised game with our old friend Jon Barry on the mic.
The Blazers come into this game on a roll. They are on a 10 and 2 run since dropping consecutive games to the Celtics and Jazz. But when you look at their schedule, you see they managed to beat the patsies. but in that stretch they lost to the Bulls and Nuggets and all 10 wins came over teams behind them in the standings. That includes 2 games each against the Kings and Raptors and also the likes of the Nets and the Warriors.
Reading the fine folks at Blazers Edge, it would seem they are more concerned with the unusual mid-season firing of assistant GM Tom Penn and the spinning of his agent. Whatever. While they are all up in arms over that, why don't we stay focused on one thing: Winning games.
And boy have the Suns been focused of late. We are finally seeing this team play up to its full potential and just in time to roll into the playoffs. Fun stuff.
The Blazers, as always, will come into Phoenix with their usual brand of methodical offense and scrappy, hard nose D.
Except they seem to think they are struggling right now with the pick and roll:
"You’ve got to get into the ball; you’ve got to get up on the ball," McMillan said. "And some of our guys at times are having trouble getting up on the ball."
The speed of opposing guards is troubling the Blazers. But so is simple execution.
Normally, Portland will "show" when defending the pick and roll, and not go with the switch. But as teams throughout the league capitalize on the evolution of athletic talent and size, bending the traditional rules of the play, the Blazers must prepare to guard against situations in which power and small forwards run the set, not just centers and point guards.
Portland guard Brandon Roy acknowledged that Portland is still struggling to defend the pick-and-roll. And he said the fact that some of the premier point guards in the game, such as Phoenix’s Steve Nash and Utah’s Deron Williams, loom on the schedule makes it all the more important that the Blazers quickly tie up their loose ends.
"We’ve got to do a good job of keeping those guys out of the paint," Roy said.
And guess who runs the pick and roll better than anyone in the league? You know that answer. I know you do.
So pick and roll them to death especially with Steve and Robin because Camby isn't nearly quick enough to hang with that and it pulls him away from the rim. Run the pick and roll with Richardson and Hill to keep them off balance and make Roy work on the defensive end. And, of course, mix in some Nash/Amare goodness.
On the glass, the Blazers are still one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league, ranked 4th with an ORR of 28.22, but the Suns are right behind at the 8th spot, with a rate of 27.59.
The defensive rebounding is another story. A bad story.
The key according to Dave at BE is Brandon Roy going off because even they don't believe the Blazers defense can win this game:
This will be a game in which Brandon Roy will need to shine. The common factor to many Suns' losses is a single opponent breaking the defense to the point they can't compensate, allowing everyone else to chip in. If Brandon can't produce points tonight the Blazers might not be able to generate enough offense to win.
Lets see if a motivated and rolling Jason Richardson is up to the challenge. I think he is. But more importantly, the Suns rotations have been sharp and they should be fully prepared to counter what Portland has to offer.
While Dave is hoping for a high scoring affair that leaves the Blazers on top, he's obviously not noticed the improved Suns defense. I think a game in the 90s is much more likely, with the Suns locking down when it matters and executing in the half-court to get the win. Some things do change.
Rudy Fernandez didn't travel with the team due to a left quad strain. The Suns will be at full strength.
Don't forget the unusual 7:30pm tip time due to ESPN's control of the known universe.